Urban gardeners are so often consumed with transforming the restricted spaces of our patios, rooftops, and window sills that we forget the potential of the spaces surrounding us from ground to sky. The vertical walls comprising our brick and mortar structures are a vast and untapped resource.
Vertical gardening movement is in its infancy, but in places as horizontally challenged as Philadelphia, it is being nurtured. At the forefront of Philadelphia’s movement is Curt Alexander owner of Urban Jungle. An engineer by training, Alexander left the comfort of a corporate paycheck to pursue his passion for irrigation and vertical landscaping. (For those wondering how one gets from engineering to vertical greening, consider the main challenge of vertical growing: water. Alexander adamantly believes that behind every great vertically landscaped wall is a well designed irrigation system the design of which comes from an engineer’s mind.)
Because most of us spend our days feet firmly planted on the ground eyes forward—unless you’re an architect or day dreamer you probably don’t even know what the top of your building looks like—the idea of growing anything on a wall seem rather foreign, but once you wrap your brain around the possibility of vertical landscaping, you may begin to appreciate it as Alexander does.
Just like painting a mural, vertical landscaping is an art and each wall is a blank canvas with as many possibilities as nature will allow. In addition to sun, soil, and water availability, shape, size, color, density, and plant positioning are all carefully considered during the design process. Landscaped walls can be altered seasonally (just as you would with potted plants) or planted with evergreens that will maintain their appeal year round. Regardless of the design, all vertically landscaped walls have benefits.
Just as horizontal greening does, vertical landscaping has the transformative powers to make a dark, cold space into a warm, welcoming one. It’s been proven that green spaces have a therapeutic effect on people (workers overlooking a green roof are more productive and willing to put in more hours). Green spaces eliminate blight and increase property value.
For real estate investors and property owners, green walls and roofs present opportunities to create one-of-a-kind spaces and regulate utility usage. (If considered during construction, the irrigation system for a green wall can be run with the other plumbing leaving nothing on the exterior except a flourishing wall of vegetation.)
For residents, vertical landscaping can improve curb appeal, increase property value, and revitalize neighborhood blocks.
For the city as a whole, lush, green walls positively change the landscape of the city, make an impact, and leave an impression. Implementing vertical landscaping not only appeals to our aesthetic senses and to neighborhood improvement, but may help us achieve the Greenworks goals of making Philadelphia the greenest city in America.
Vertical landscaping may not be a project for the average urban gardener, but with assistance from Alexander and his team, we might start to benefit from growing up.